Royal Concrete Pipe is a rapidly expanding manufacturer based in Stacy, Minnesota specializing in precast concrete pipes, manholes and other products for sewers and storm water. A sister company, Royal Environmental Systems, offers products for water treatment and utilities infrastructure. The aim for both firms over the next few years is diversification and growth.
“The contracts we have are typically with either a general contractor or an underground utility contractor. Those contracts come from all different places. For instance, we work with private developers, we work with DOT, and we work with commercial [firms],” says Steve Gentry, Vice-President Engineering at Royal Concrete Pipe.
Most customers for the “precast side of the business, the pipe and manholes” are based in the Midwest, says Gentry, adding “we do a fair amount of business on the water quality side of things on the West Coast.” The company has also done some work in Canada but not Mexico.
Founded in 1990, Royal Concrete Pipe is a division of umbrella company, Royal Enterprises America. Royal Environmental Systems “is a separate entity” but works closely with Royal Concrete Pipe, says Gentry.
In January, 2016, the Royal network expanded to include a Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin-firm called Huffcutt Concrete. Originally founded in 1945, Huffcutt manufactures a range of precast products including modular buildings, vault toilets, architectural wall panels, septic tanks and more. As an NPCA certified precast plant, Huffcutt Concrete adds a unique product line that complements the precast focus of Royal Enterprises America, explains Chuck Kroll, Operations Manager at Royal Concrete Pipe.
Royal Concrete Pipe is the largest company under the Royal Enterprises America banner. That said, there is considerable overlap in personnel between Royal Concrete Pipe and Royal Environmental Systems. Gentry, for example, is in charge of engineering for both firms.
Put together, Royal Concrete Pipe and Royal Environmental Systems have roughly 120 employees at present. This figure might soon increase, however, as the Royal network grows.
“We are expanding our precast operations to include an additional wet cast production facility which will also offer ready mix concrete. So there will be a small group of additional employees added. Maybe a dozen,” says Gentry.
The plan is to have the new facility operational by next year; the new firm, called Royal Ready Mix, will offer concrete to both commercial and residential projects. This is a practical response to the situation since many of our customers already use ready mix concrete; it seemed logical to “offer them a bigger package” by adding ready mix concrete to the Royal companies’ existing product line, says Gentry.
The soon-to-be launch of the additional precast location and ready mix concrete plant reflects another Royal corporate tenet: diversification.
This is reflected in the product offerings on the Royal Enterprises America website, which covers both Royal Concrete Pipe and Royal Environmental Systems. Available wares range from concrete pipes, storm structures and catch basins to storm water treatment, erosion control and environmental products and infrastructure solutions such as inlet protection, cable concrete, spacers and steel fibers.
The Royal companies frequently form partnerships with other firms to offer new products. There are currently partnerships with CULTEC of Brookfield, Connecticut; Percoa of Eden Prairie, Minnesota; and WaterTectonics of Everett, Washington. CULTEC offers stormwater and septic chambers, Percoa specializes in precast pervious concrete slabs while WaterTectonics is focused on water quality products. This kind of diversity makes the Royal firms “more of a full-package deal – a one-stop shop,” explains Gentry.
Percoa’s patented pervious concrete slabs are designed to drain excess storm water run-off. The presence of these slabs reduces or eliminates the need “for a storm water retention pond or other means of storm water storage,” says Kroll.
Percoa required manufacturing assistance to bring its pervious concrete slabs to full commercial fruition, allowing Royal to supply pervious concrete slabs to the lower 48 states. Which is why the company joined forces with Royal Concrete Pipe and its well-established manufacturing capabilities. Royal Concrete Pipe is currently in the research and development stage, determining the best machinery and manufacturing processes to produce the pervious slabs. The aim is to have the product on the market by next year. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to put some inventory on the ground and come out next spring for the spring construction season,” says Kroll.
Royal Environmental Systems teamed up with CULTEC to supply the latter’s stormwater chamber systems. WaterTectonics, meanwhile, designs and makes water treatment products for the oil and gas, industrial, construction and mining sectors.
Water quality, is “a popular topic in the engineering and construction world,” notes Gentry. WaterTectonic’s location in the ecologically-minded Pacific Northwest is no accident either he says. “Water quality is near and dear to those people.”
Gentry joined Royal Concrete in 1993. In the early days, the firm was “very much a small mom and pop type shop.” The focus, when he started was firmly on precast concrete pipe and manholes.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the firm grew rapidly and began branching out into new products, and revenues have been on the rise recently. To reach this point, Royal Concrete Pipe first had to emerge from a rough patch.
When the housing market declined as part of the recession, sales slowed. In late 2012 however, Brian Seubert joined Royal Enterprises America and Royal Concrete Pipe began to revive, purchasing Royal Enterprises America in 2014.
Seubert “took the bull by the horns and started making changes and improving processes around the plant to make it more profitable. It was at the tail end of 2012 when things really started to turn around. Every year since, our sales have increased,” Kroll says.
The new owner was particularly taken with the Japanese manufacturing philosophy of Kaizen, or continuous improvement. “Our goal has been, since he has been on board with us, to improve our processes and our quality and customer service,” says Gentry.
Kaizen produced results, “in everything from reducing the amount of scrap to making jobs easier, replacing equipment that may not have been as efficient. It definitely covered all aspects of the operation,” adds Kroll.
The new focus also helped balance the bottom line. In terms of current revenues, Kroll says Royal Concrete Pipe is “on track to be right about the same, maybe a little bit better than last year. Even a little growth is better than nothing.”
In addition to emphasizing quality and continuous improvement, the company maintains a vigorous safety culture. Safety training for employees at Royal Concrete Pipe “is fairly extensive depending on where they’re working. We offer safety training for the equipment they operate, whether it’s forklifts or trucks … even down to proper ways of lifting,” says Gentry.
Gentry says the company wants new hires who are “team players, with the drive to improve our company and our processes.” He adds that “we try not to really act corporate. Meaning that we’re more of a family of people and take care of each other.”
While diversification is the goal, officials at Royal Concrete Pipe say the company doesn’t plan to emphasize any one particular part of the company over another.
“I would say that we are not really focused on any one particular segment. We are always looking to grow, increase sales, and gain new customers of the products we have been making for years. As we are doing this, we are also looking into different avenues to diversify our company that may or may not be related to precast concrete … it’s not like we’re shifting our focus down to one product line or one division [however]. The goal is to grow as a company, whether that’s increasing sales or reducing inefficiencies, saving money by shopping competitively. It’s all aspects as far as product lines go,” says Kroll.
Diversification, expansion, efficiency and Kaizen principles remain central to the company’s vision over the next few years.
“This ties in with the continuous improvement and the mentality that standing still and not improving is somewhat like taking a step back Kroll says. “In five years, we will be even more productive, efficient and streamlined. It’s hard to say what path our owner will have for us, but a safe bet would be that we will expand into different markets/territories. If none of this comes to fruition, then the concept of continuous improvement has not been applied properly, and we haven’t performed our jobs properly.”